What Do You Want Me to Do for You? (Sermon for March 8, 2020)

Jesus keeps telling the disciples what’s going to happen.

The first time he told them, he told them that he would be rejected by the Jewish authorities and killed. And, after three days, he would rise again. And Peter didn’t think that sounded very messianic. And Jesus told him that he was setting his mind on human things and not on divine things.

And then he called the disciples together and told them that if they wanted to follow him, then they had to pick up their crosses and follow him.

The second time he told them, he told them that he would be betrayed into human hands, and that those hands would kill him. And, after three days, he would rise again. And the disciples didn’t understand what he was talking about; and they were afraid to ask him what he meant.

And he didn’t say it, but you know it was lingering in the background: if they wanted to follow him, then they had to pick up their crosses and follow him.

In today’s reading, we hear him tell them for a third time when he tells them, “You can see that we’re on our way to Jerusalem, the capital of our dispossessed people and our occupied land. And when we get there, I will be handed over to the Jewish authorities, who will condemn me to death. And they, in turn, will hand me over to the Roman authorities, who will mock me… and spit on me… and flog me… and kill me. And, after three days, I will rise again.”

And James and John—the Brothers Zebedee—seem to see an opportunity. They come to him with a request.

And Jesus asks them a question. No. Wait. Jesus asks them the question: “What do you want me to do for you?”

And so they tell him, “After all of the things that you’ve told us have come to pass, when you return in glory, will you give us positions of power and privilege and prestige? Will you seat one of us at your right hand and one of us at your left? We don’t care who sits where. It’s just, y’know, someone’s gotta sit there, and…”

And when they’re done asking for something just short of the whole world, Jesus asks them, “You want to sit and my right hand and my left hand? Can you do what it takes to get those seats? Can you drink from my cup? Can you be baptized with my baptism?”

‘Cause if they want to follow him to glory, they’re going to have to pick up their cups and make their baptismal promises and carry their crosses… and follow him.

Jesus keeps telling the disciples what’s going to happen. It’s the central story of our faith. I’ve told it to you before like this: God loved the world like this. When she saw that it was broken, she laid glory aside and became one of us. He showed us how to live and how to love and how to be human. And when we responded by nailing him to a cross and laying him in a tomb, they got up again… and looked at us and loved us… and said, “I’m not done with you, yet.”

God did what was impossible for us. God reconciled us, and restored us, and redeemed us. And God does that again and again. Every day.

And it’s good to know the story. We all know the story. The disciples know the story. But Christ doesn’t call us to know the story. Christ calls us to follow him.

Later, when Jesus and the disciples are on their way to Jerusalem—where things are going to happen—they pass through Jericho. And as they are leaving Jericho, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus comes to him with a request.

And Jesus asks him the question… the same question that he asked the Brothers Zebedee: “What do you want me to do for you?” 

And so Bartimaeus tells him, “Let me see.”

And Jesus does. And Bartimaeus starts following him to Jerusalem… where things are going to happen.

[BEAT]

Jesus keeps telling the disciples what’s going to happen. Jesus keeps calling us to follow him through it. And Jesus keeps asking the question, “What do you want me to do for you?”

It’s a serious question. And it would be easy to say that the Brothers Zebedee give the wrong answer when they ask for power and privilege and prestige. And it would be easy to say that Bartimaeus gives the right answer when he asks to be able to see. And that might even be a little bit true.

But…

After the Brothers Zebedee make their request, and before Jesus and the disciples go to Jericho and meet Bartimaeus, Jesus calls the disciples and tells them how it is going to be among them.

You’ve seen the rulers of the world, the ones who sit at the right hand of power. They lord it over their people. And you’ve seen the ones who the world calls great, the ones who sit at the left hand of prestige. They are tyrants over their people. But it is not going to be that way with you. If you want to be great, then you must be a servant. If you want to be at the top of the pyramid, then you need to be a slave to everyone. After all, I am your lord and your messiah. And I came here to serve, not to be served.

And, in case you missed it the first three times I told you… I’m gonna die for you.

Jesus keeps telling the disciples what’s going to happen and Jesus keeps calling us to follow him through it: to be servants to everyone in need; to walk the path to Jerusalem; to pick up our crosses and walk a little bit further… to go to Golgotha… and the tomb… and the resurrection.

And through all of this, Jesus keeps asking the question, “What do you want me to do for you?”

And it’s easy to think that we’re supposed to answer the question.

But…

God loved the world like this. When she saw that it was broken, she laid glory aside and became one of us. He showed us how to live and how to love and how to be human. And when we responded by nailing him to a cross and laying him in a tomb, they got up again… and looked at us and loved us… and said, “I’m not done with you, yet.”

Anything that I could ask Jesus for, he has already done for me. Any answer I’m going to give to that question—from Jesus—seems cheap.

And if I’m going to follow Jesus, maybe it isn’t so important that I answer the question. Maybe it’s more important that I ask it.

We are Christians. We follow Christ. It’s right there in the name. We are called to serve as he served. We are called to love as he loved. We are called to ask as he asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”

And here’s the thing. Here’s the trick. Here’s the church.

If we’re all asking that question, then none of us get to just ask that question. Each of us also hears that question asked of us. While we are asking our neighbor, “What do you want me to do for you,” another neighbor is asking us, “What do you want me to do for you?”

And while it might be impossible to answer that question when Jesus asks it, every one of us can answer it when our neighbor asks it. Every one of us can help one of our neighbors and accept help from another.

And when we do that—when we see and when we are seen, when we help and when we are helped, when we serve and when we are served, when we love and when we are loved—we might just find that Jesus is there with us. We might just find ourselves at his right hand and his left hand… in glory.

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